Julius LaRosa / Julius La Rosa
Maybe it's the Brooklyn in him, for this is an engagingly tender saloon singer of a man who embraces his roots, who lives to share the music of all his years, and who asks only that the world write his surname in two words with a space in between.
As a young man fresh out of the Navy in the 1950s, he soon made a name for himself by turning a fun-loving song he had sung as a child, “E Cumpari,” into a smash hit. And he's still very much the same man when, as boyish as ever, he performs anywhere from an intimate room in Manhattan to an opera house in Galveston with all the sensitivity and skill of a lover of lyrics who has found his metier in spades.
In other words, Julius La Rosa is better than ever. His voice, now a warm woodwind of a baritone, is as free and easy with the high-flying spirit of “Volare” as it is with the fateful mood of “Here's That Rainy Day.”
His phrasing, his timing and his sheer grasp of each song he chooses to share is the work of a storyteller, one with the ear of a poet, ever determined to give each lyric a reading and a meaning never heard before.
Indeed, “Smile” in the way he delivers it with his Chaplinesque pauses in the middle of lines such as a tear ever so near has the sweet sadness of a lament addressed to an audience of one. The many other sentiments in this collection are just as personal. You believe each word, for example, when he delivers Hal David's line, I love you so, in “The Look of Love” and when he hits the last two words in the line, You and I - that's us, with a kind of no-kidding gusto in “You Make Me Feel So Young.”
On “I'll Be Seeing You,” he recalls all of the landmarks in the lyric such as that small cafe and the park across the way as if they were faded snapshots tucked away in the back of his mind. Then, with the decisive Yes that he inserts before the opening line of the refrain, he starts you off on a journey of the purest emotion that makes you feel he really will be seeing you when he's looking at the moon.
And "Send in the Clowns," Stephen Sondheim's ode to irony, has never been so subtly experienced, spoken and sung as it is here. He makes the line Isn't it bliss? more poignant than ever by pausing unexpectedly to search for the word bliss. In the line Where are the clowns?, he places the emphasis, not on clowns but on where, a switch from the familiar reading that makes all the sense in the world simply because it creates the perfect opening for the reply, They ought to be here. When he comes to the phrase with my usual flair, he delivers it with a delicious sense of self-mockery on the word usual. As if that weren't enough, he ends the song with a self-effacing chuckle followed by three different, and equally plaintive, readings of maybe next year.
Not that Julius La Rosa stands alone in the midst of this exquisite array of songs. On the contrary, he is surrounded by a cluster of gifted talents beginning with arranger - conductor Bill Waranoff. It isn't often that an arranger has the opportunity to capture the styles of several decades in one compact disc, and he is more than up to it, all the way from the opening bars of “Just in Time” to the closing words of “Goodnight, Sweetheart,” when the band echoes the notes of the last goodnight, the instrumental touch that used to signal the end of every high school prom.
And even if you never have the chance to see and hear Julius La Rosa captivate a roomful of people on an evening punctuated by his special mentions of favorite lyricists such as Johnny Mercer, Johnny Burke and numerous others, it really doesn't matter. Because now you have him all to yourself, in a room all your own